One of the best restaurants in the U.S. invests in customer service by taking the staff to Italy every year.
I have had the pleasure to patronize the Barolo Grill in Denver, Colorado for more than 20 years. Of the many constants during those years is an excellent, dare I say exciting, dining experience, convivial atmosphere and low staff turnover. Contributing to all of those is the owners’ commitment to staff training and immersion in Italian culture by organizing an annual trip to Italy.
As a sales professional in the wine industry, and by living in the neighborhood, I have had a “bird’s-eye” view of the growth of the restaurant’s food and wine program. The wine program has particular pedigree, gaining momentum under owner Blair Taylor, who moved on to focus on his wine importing business, to currently being owned by Ryan Fletter, who took the wine program to its current level over the past 2 decades.
Barolo Grill has been acknowledge by many of the industry leaders for its excellence. Among those recent accolades:
Wine Spector Magazine- Grand Award of Excellence
Wine Enthusiast Magazine- named among America’s Best Wine Restaurants
Conde Naste Traveler- 22 Best Restaurants in Denver
Open Table – Top 100 restaurants in the U.S. for Wine Lovers
I invite you to enjoy my guest blogger, owner of Barolo Grill, Ryan Fletter, as he shares his adventure with the Barolo Grill team in July, 2018. If you love Italian food and wine, this article is for you. This is part one, of a two-part posting. Be sure to check back soon for the rest of the story.
Barolo Grill’s trip to Italy 2018, Part One
We had just arrived from Denver to Toscana to begin soaking up our stay in Italy— starting off with traditional Tuscan foods and wines. where the famous vineyards produce Sangiovese grapes for the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a highly acclaimed wine region in the area. It was a hot Tuscan afternoon; you could hear the cicadas making their singing noises in the surrounding trees. The property had endless lavender bushes surrounded by buzzing bees and huge rosemary bushes the size of evergreen trees. Everywhere you walked you could smell the breeze of fresh herbs and flowers and hear the percussion of the cicadas.
Our second mission (first was a quick plunge in the sky-blue swimming pool) was to visit the local market and see what we could bring back to work with in our farmhouse kitchen. Barolo Grill’s executive chef, Darrel Truett, was so inspired to cook during our stay with the local bounty of the area. We found heaping piles of heirloom tomatoes, fresh zucchini and squash blossoms, endless selections of pecorino cheeses, peaches and apricots and watermelons everywhere!
Ideas began pouring in for menu items with images of colorful and plump heirloom tomatoes for fresh salads as well as crushed tomato sauces with warm pillows of potato gnocchi. I was particularly excited about the idea of fresh tagliatelle pasta with grilled summer squash laced with golden orange squash blossoms.
Next, we were off to visit a few wineries. Since the 19th century, the Fanetti family has had the Tenuta Sant’Agnese, which houses the Cantine Fanetti winery and is an absolute classic in the area! The 5th generation daughter Giudita works in the cantina with her mother Elizabetta. They received us with glorious hospitality and began to prepare a classic Tuscan lunch called pranzo. We started with classic bruschetta with fresh heirloom tomatoes. Giudita and Elizabetta just barely rubbed the crisp Tuscan bread with garlic, only to discard the actual clove after it had accomplished its purpose, to pass along its garlic essence to the bread. The estate grown and produced fresh extra-virgin olive oil was drizzled on top to finish everything off with glistening shine. Their fields of olive trees produce world-class olive oil, peppery and green as the leaf-hopping cicadas that sang in the trees above us.
We then moved into the primo piatto (a classic plate of pasta) as Giudita’s Grandmother, nonna, has been in the cucina rolling out fresh Pici pasta topped with fresh tomato sauce. Pici pasta is the local pasta of Siena (the province that we are within), made up of long shoestring noodles hand rolled (almost spaghetti like, but twice as thick and pencil sized). She topped it off with Pecorino Toscana cheese, the local sheep’s milk cheese, shaved on top and so thin it melted instantaneously like a thin, sheer blanket as it landed on the noodles, which were bathing in a fresh and spicy tomato sauce.
We continued with steaks of chianina, the local, prized beef of the area. We drank multiple riserva vintages of Vino Nobile—1999, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2014. We finished with a special prize brought up from the cellar, a 1980 vintage to show great longevity of the cellar. We can’t wait to pour the 2010 Vino Nobile by the glass at Barolo Grill, we just added it to our wine list!
After pranzo we toured the ancient wine cellars underground. The ceilings were laced in prehistoric seashells from millions of years ago when the sea sat on top of these ancient soils. We then returned back to our 16th century farmhouse to take another plunge into the pool before embarking on cooking our next meal from the local market fare. We were all anxious to start the grills, begin boiling fresh pasta, and indulge in the glorious sunset views of Montepulciano while drinking Vino Nobile long into the evening.
FYI - Ryan has also shared this story with 5280 Magazine. Photos courtesy of Abby Hagstrom